OC COR Calls Youth Summit
By Dianne Anderson
Disabled kids, kids of color, those that dress or talk or walk differently than other students usually make easy targets for bullying.
Star Simmons should know.
Her advocacy for disabled students and parents has spanned decades with the fight for resources that began with her own now grown disabled kids.
She said an upcoming event will open important conversation about harassment on the rise in local schools, and what students and parents can do about it.
On Sunday, February 23, the entire community, middle and high school students and parents are invited out for real dialogue at the Youth Empowerment Summit. The event is held from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. At COR Church, located at 45 Tesla in Irvine.
At the event, student panelists, many disabled and students of color, will speak to their daily dealings with campus bullying. Adult panelists will also cover solutions that parents can access when their child is victimized.
“One girl got jumped on a week ago because they found out she was on meds,” said Simmons, chair of the 2020 Youth Empowerment Summit of COR Church.
Simmons’ daughter Alyssa has missed about a month or more each school year with Sickle Cell hospitalizations since kindergarten. Even though she is a survivor and an overachiever, she also has faced her share of bias from teachers and administrators. It’s not uncommon.
“It’s because you’re Black, maybe it’s because you’re disabled, or you’re a female. Out of the three, maybe one of them is right,” said Simmons, the president and founder of The Sickle Cell Foundation of Orange County.
Having worked with countless disabled students, Simmons said parents must learn to navigate the school system that often otherwise works against them.
Despite missing so much school, her daughter is on track to be a disability attorney, earning top grades. She graduates high school in June with a 4.3 GPA, along with an Associates Degree from college. She is also finishing up a one-year law internship program at LMU, one of only 15 students chosen nationally.
Despite the debilitating disability, she has been accepted to several Ivy League universities with potential full-ride scholarships. In 2011, her son Charon, also with Sickle Cell, was pronounced Code Blue. Following 85 units blood transfusion and prayer, he was brought back to full health. Today, he works with high level intellectual autistic adults.
Even the most challenged and disabled students can achieve high success if they receive the right resources, Simmons added, but she said it’s critical to get students and parents connected. In the past two months, she has seen several incidents where disability or race results in students facing legal problems.
She advocates for them in courtrooms, and works with schools to help mediate to avoid expulsion.
Unfair discipline is yet another aspect of the education system where teachers and principals are biased.
“Some of these kids are victims of bullying, some do self-harm. We’re making sure they get the help they need,” she said.
The goal is that the Youth Empowerment Summit will open up dialogue wider on ways to survive bullying, thrive in diversity, and offer help.
Youth panelists include middle, high school and college disabled students, autistic, Muslims, African Americans, Mormons, Asians, and LGBTQ is addressing bullying because of disabilities, racial or cultural affiliations.
On the adult panel, a lawyer will speak to disability and education. The police chief will discuss the criminal side and repercussions of youth crime, the chief of probation and campus police will discuss disciplinary actions taken on campus.
Mental illness clinicians will cover the psychological impact of certain victimization by other students, such as when students upload videos of a school fight, and the victim is revictimized again. Panelists will look at various forms of harassment, as well as legal repercussions of students disseminating harassing material.
She said the summit will prompt real dialogue and solutions.
Through her foundation, Simmons also helps parents navigate IEPs and 504s, an important and sometimes confusing process.
“We’re reaching out beyond the walls of Sickle Cell. We’re reaching out to all communities in spearheading the event at COR,” she said. “Kids will be there that represent hemophilia, I think it’s something huge.”
Church outreach is one of several platforms she uses to engage parents and get linked to resources.
Early this month, she said COR Church also opened its call for students to submit their application for grants and scholarships. The deadline to submit is through February 22.
All students who are starting college as freshmen or a doctoral program are welcome to apply.
“You don’t have to be a member of our church, you just have to be going to college. You write an essay and submit it. If you win, they cut you a check,” she said. “
For those that may miss the upcoming Youth Summit, she said that they can still connect with her organization to receive help.
“We all have to be able at some point to try to help one another,” she said. “If I have information and access, I’m going to share it with you.”
For more information on disability resources, contact Simmons at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.scdfoc.org